Serena Williams with a vegan tennis racquet and ball
It is a lesser-known fact that one of the world’s first fully vegan tennis racquets was made right here in Chennai. An aluminium alloy frame with synthetic strings, the AI 1000 was the first to have a vinyl rexine (artificial leather cloth) handle cover, unlike all the other racquets that were fitted with leather.
The birth of an idea
In 1973, this nearly impossible feat — back then — was achieved by Dr. Chinny Krishna, co-founder of Blue Cross of India. According to his quote in Animals 24-7* that published an article on the same in 2017, Dr. Krishna said, “I was manufacturing one of the earliest aluminium alloy tennis racquets. As an ethical vegan, I used the best synthetic strings available 44 years ago, but was stuck as far as the handle wrap went. All high quality grips were leather at that time.”
Dr. Chinny Krishna
A sporting legend’s helping hand
He then contacted Vijay Merchant, a director of Bohr Industries Ltd, to look for an alternative to leather as the company specialized in synthetics. Dr. Krishna continued, “Vijay Merchant was one of the cricketing greats of India,” with the second highest international test match batting average in the game’s history. “He sent me some rolls of material with a hand-written letter that read: ‘As a vegetarian myself, I greatly appreciate your idea. However, in my opinion, I can see no chance of any synthetic material with the sweat-absorbing properties of leather to be fit for a tennis racquet grip. Please do try the rexine material I am sending and let me know.'”
Rocket scientist in animal welfare
Dr. Krishna took Merchant’s suggestion and within a few years, some of the finest tennis racquet grips were all non-leather! Along the way, Dr. Krishna also became known as the only rocket scientist in animal welfare, because he founded Aspick Engineering Pvt Ltd in 1974, which has gone on to build radio telescopes and robotic satellite arms for the Indian space program, ever since.
Biofabricated leather created from collagen
Forward to the future
Over the years, many engineered leathers have been created, which don’t use animal derivatives. One such example is Zoa Leather — the world’s first biofabricated leather brand made by Modern Meadow, for which the material is derived from collagen and not an animal. On pathbreaking transformations like this, Dr. Krishna mentioned in the article, “We are, today, in the midst of some of the most profound changes that mankind has never seen,” before concluding.
* Animals 24-7 is a US-based nonprofit online newspaper and information service that covers news about the animal welfare community worldwide.